Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Micro Exploring on a Tight Schedule

Escaping the urban landscape to explore and recharge in the wilderness isn’t always possible because of time, money, transportation and family commitments. But when you got to go, when you really need to feel the crunch of fresh snow underfoot, or get close to trees and nature, a little creativity is all that it takes.

I found myself needing to get creative last fall, when I had no time to drive to an adventure, but absolutely needed to get away for a few hours. Like many Canadians, I’m fortunate to live in a city that has a large urban park. In my case it is Regina, Saskatchewan’s Wascana Centre. That park has bike trails and foot paths and a small lake. It is used by locals and tourists from spring through winter for a variety of activities. But it also has some wild places that encourage exploration, but require some effort to find. That is where I made my escape to!

There was a fresh snowfall, so I packed my pack, and put on all my gear, just as I would for a winter hike. When getting creative, verisimilitude is essential!

The adventure started with a three kilometre hike past gas stations, office buildings and restaurants to get to the urban “trailhead”. But once I got onto the road less travelled by, that made all the difference. I discovered wild, secret places that, as a runner and a cyclist in the park, I never previously even knew existed. 

On the snowy hike I saw hares and many species of birds and even a coyote. I also surrounded myself with trees and plants, now dormant for the coming winter, but still alive with colours and character against the otherwise flat, washed-out prairie landscape. 

The highlight of the 12-kilometre hike was taking a break in a secluded bird sanctuary area, where bikes and vehicles are not permitted and most people don’t usually access. I pulled out my Explore Magazine, Live the Adventure Club box micro stove, a coffee maker and some food. And there, in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded on all compass points by city, I had a perfect, pristine moment in nature. 

Sure I could have just put coffee in the thermos, but the act of making espresso outdoors was an unforgettable hiking Zen moment. This experience recharged and nourished me for the coming week. Since this first time exploring on a tight schedule, I have taken to creating more “micro explorations” on hikes, but also off road on my bike and on snowshoes. 

The outdoors is all around us, it just takes a slight shift in perspective to see it and enjoy.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Winter respite in PANP

On December 15, 2017, two friends and I loaded up into a truck and drove north from Regina to Prince Albert National Park (Paignton Beach). For me, this was a first. Although I had snowshoed and cross country skied and taken my bike out in the winter and in snow, I had never actually attempted to camp, let alone sleep in a tent in a Saskatchewan winter. (I'm not going to quibble about winter solstice and when winter actually starts. There was snow, it was cold ergo, it was winter).

In any case. Don was the resident expert, having lived in the north and being a professional (and apparently semi-retired) educator who also teaches students the joy of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, and camping in it. It was his idea, he was the catalyst, the sensei. Paul was the cheerleader. An avid and experienced outdoorsman, Paul is no stranger to camping, winter sports and all the joys of the outdoors in winter, spring, summer and fall.

We took a number of weeks planning this event. Paul and I spent quite some time scratching our heads wondering what to take, how to prepare and what to expect. We were able to borrow some tents and sleeping gear, as what we both had were not winter rated. As it turned out, the tents that we did get were not four season tents, but we were prepared to use them anyway.

Just like prepping for an Ironman

I told myself, this was no different than preparing for a race. "Get your stuff organized", "make sure you will have what you need for any situation", "then, go back into your kit and eliminate half the stuff that you will need, but know you'll never use." That's what I did. I packed the essentials:

  • Sleeping bag x 2
  • Foam bed mat (need something better next time) 
  • Tent
  • Headlamp x3 (really? did I really think I needed that?), 
  • Micro cooking stove and butane canister
  • Cooking pots/utensils
  • Coffee (instant Starbucks coffee is the best I've ever found) 
  • Water containers  with water (there would be no running water)
  • "other liquid" container for late night peeing. I like to use an old bike bidon, then I just pitch
  • Several tarps/groundsheets
  • clothing layers for three days, including light and heavy winter jackets, leggings/tights and snowpants. (we had no idea what the weather would be. It could be anything from Zero to -40C.)
  • Two pairs of winter boots and suitable socks and gloves and hats/tubes/buffs 
  • Snow shoes and poles.
  • Bathing suit (I guy can dream? and it doesn't take up any room)
  • Several battery packs for charging my iphone/camera, Garmin Fenix 3, and headlamp. (I assumed there would be no power - and there wasn't)
  • Sundry stuff, like pocket knife, tent light, mini axe (didn't need) etc. 
  • personal food/snacks and stuff that we would share, such as home made foil pack potatoes, sausage and onions)
Some of the equipment we had was shared between the three of us and was borrowed or was already in the possession of Paul or Sensei Don. The list that I have above is what I had taken personally. After three decades of purging all that I owned, I didn't have much gear that wasn't specifically made for triathlon, running or biking. But I improvised, especially with the clothing. The actual camping-specific equipment I have was collected through a quarterly gearbox program I participate in. It is called the Explore Live The Adventure Club. (LTA). It is pretty awesome, and it is Canadian, a rarity in this country...Canada.

Skip ahead to the first day

The 5-hour (450ish) kilometre drive from Regina to Waskesiu (PANP) was uneventful and Paul is an expert chauffeur. We lucked out on the weather, as it stayed quite warm (0 to -6C). Sensei Don had mentioned that there would be friends up there. And I was delighted to meet some new friends who shared a passion for the outdoors, but who also had significant experiences with camping and the outdoors.

Our first order of business was setting up tents. I was quite impressed with my setup.  but I made mistakes. I did not flatten down the snow enough underneath the tent/groundsheet. After the first night of sleep (temps dropped to below -15C overnight), the loose snow melted and froze underneath where my body lay in the tent. The result was a very hard (and cold) set of lumps directly beneath where I was hoping to sleep. The picture below is the hard, icy outline of my body underneath where my tent had been.
The simple foam bed roll, did not help.

I also found, on the first night, that although I had the tarp/groundsheet underneath the tent, when I put my hand, or any bare body part (don't ask) on the ground, I would get immediate condensation on the tent floor. I am a hot blooded...triathlete, after all.

I had a compact tarp that I had scored from the LTA. Putting that down inside the tent, below my sleeping gear helped tremendously. In this picture, you can see the silver of the mini tarp that I used. The tent itself was cozy. I was worried about condensation, so I left some of the netting open to the outside and this allowed some breezes. I slept comfortably, and was "just on the edge of cold and never needed the second sleeping bag.

I now understand, however, that had I closed those flies, the tent would have been considerably warmer with me in it and I wouldn't have had to be on the "edge" of anything.

In any case, this trip was a learning experience and I learned many things. More than I expected. I will share those musings once I can put them to words. 

I made a video after the tent set up. It features Paul and Sensei Don.

You will have seen in the video the other tents and a building in the background. That was the cookhouse. 

This is a building at the national park, that can be used for warming up, cooking and even taking shelter/sleeping in when the weather got bad. During the warm months, it has no walls, in the winter, it is walled up and quite cozy. Some of our new friends slept in there and we all cooked and ate (and drank!) there and in front of the fire.

As the weather was considerably warmer than we expected, the fire was a great place to cool down, but also to get to know each other and to sample some of the delicacies that we had brought up such as the Bushwakker Mead and deer sausage that made the rounds.

The whole weekend was about sharing. And not only was there too much food cooked, but some of the food that was brought up wasn't even taken out of cooler/storage.


It is tempting to say that we had some visitors at our camp, but it is more realistic to say that we visited their home. There were the resident deer and elk that we caught some glimpses of, but by far, the more entertaining was the fox. I'm not versed enough in zoology do know if Mr. Fox was a Ms Fox, but this resident of the park showed up and would get surprisingly close to the camp and wouldn't leave. I suspect that there had been some "fox feeding" in the recent past and this canine had figured out how to get a free meal without having to rely on the usual supply of rodents and other small mammals.

This second picture is of the viewfinder of one of the people I had the pleasure of meeting, Sarang. A new Canadian, I learned that Sarang one day wanted to camp, so he drove up to PANP, and made some new friends - those that were also at the camp during the week I was there.
Like the others I met and spent time with, Sarang is a remarkable man.

I also had the privilege of meeting this odd fellow. I was quite surprised to see this dude resting on the snow, while I set up my tent. For decades, I've lived under the misapprehension that insects, like bears, do not come out in the winter. Thankfully, we did not see or hear any bears.

This little guy, I later learned is a Snowfly, a wingless fly that walks around in the winter.
And you thought Australian insects are whack!

But, by far, the most ubiquitous and interesting residents who visited us squatting in their territory were a pair of Whisky Jacks or Gray Jays. 

These fearless birds are now Canada's official birds - well, not these two particular ones, although I'm sure that they have served as ambassadors or envoys or something. The story of their official status is here on a CBC news page.

What was amazing was, I only needed to hold out my hand (with food in it) and these little guys would swoop down park themselves, eat up the food and fly away, only to come back at the next offering. The other really interesting thing about these birds that I discovered is that they are one of the only Canadian birds (indigenous to Canada) that have an indigenous (Cree) name. 
According to Wikipaedia, "The species is associated with mythological figures of several First Nations cultures, including Wisakedjak, a benevolent figure whose name was anglicized to Whiskyjack."

Perfect Sunrise

When you are away from the big city, or any city, one of the wonders is the light show. This trip did not disappoint. We walked out on the frozen Waskesiu Lake in the morning and, with a little patience, were treated to this!

Sure, there are beautiful skies in Regina and in other places, too. But this was the reward for waking up and taking a little walk.

The air was cold, but very clean. I think it was Sarang who said: "Stop, stop! Smell that!" To which I said: "I smell nothing," and he said: "Exactly!"  Everything was clean, pristine and pure.  Then they started cooking bacon in the cookhouse.

Snowshoe Ecstasy

The weather, as I had noted, was surprisingly warm. We also had quite a bit of snow fall during our several days there. This made for perfect conditions to be outside, not that we had much choice, and to snowshoe (not that we had much choice as the snow was very deep in places.)

This was my favourite part of the trip. After losing considerable weight the previous six months and being in quite good cardivascular and muscular fitness after a season of 6,000 kms of bike riding, I was really looking forward to a good rigorous snowshoe. I was not disappointed.

There were some great trails that Sensei Don knew all about and we all took our turns leading and "trailblazing" on them. There were some ski tracks along the way, and we did our best to avoid them, but as they were fresh, and the snow kept falling, we were not too worried about trodding upon them.

And although I had with me my cook stove, and all the fixins' for making coffee and food, we instead delighted in some sandwiches that Sensei Don had picked up from Italian Star Deli, that were especially welcomed.

I did get a Garmin file of some of the snowshoeing. You can see it here. 
We also had some liquid items that really actually lower one's temperature and should not be imbibed outdoors in winter, but also taste really good and give a awesome warm feeling when consumed.

Sarang took this selfie/group picture as the Sensei was trying to figure out how to use the camera on his phone. I did mention he was semi-retired?

Breathtaking Hike

The snowshoe adventure was hard. Sometimes I pushed the pace, other times, the climbing and the effort that took surprised me. It was good to stop often and take pictures. I don't think there was a single kilometre where there were not at least four or five things to observe and wonder at. 

For me, it is always the trees. They have a beauty and a mystery that reminds me of a past I can't remember, but that I know is in my DNA, somewhere.

They speak to me, they point me in directions I didn't even know existed.

And they compel me to look at them and through them to see what I didn't even know was there.

This trip was the inspiration for my beginning to once again understand that the road ahead isn't paved. It was the beginning of my searching for understanding in nature. Understanding of what? If I knew that, I wouldn't have to search as far.

What I do know, is that with every foray into the outdoors, every time I push myself, almost and into the point of discomfort, I discover something new about myself. I learned this when I did Ironman for the first time and subsequent times.  I learned this when I almost drowned at the St. George Ironman. I learned this when the old gods of travel conspired against my family and me at Christmas time. 

But I also learned this indoors when I became a Knight of Sufferlandria.  There is some intangible that I come closer to perceiving and understanding when I venture into the unknown and unexperienced.

I am thankful to all my friends and new acquaintances that helped make this foray into the wilderness possible. Sartre wrote "Enfer, c'est les autres -- Hell is other people". Every single day I understand and sometimes live this struggle of being that the existentialist described.

But also, when a group of strangers comes together, usually in the middle of nowhere, I suddenly realized on this trip,  that salvation and understanding is other people, too.

This paradox is the duality of my understanding and my experiences that I must explore.

Monday, 26 February 2018

The long road ahead isn't paved

For more than a decade, I've been training for triathlons. Swimming in overcrowded pools, biking indoors on trainers . I've been running on crowded indoor tracks, tired treadmills and outdoors, only when the weather conditions were not too psychotic.

It was great. The sense of accomplishment when finishing a three-hour, indoor ride; or a two-hour swim was great. Completing a 21km or more run in -20 Celsius or colder was also, believe it or not, surprisingly fulfilling. After a lengthy thaw, the magnitude of the achievement and the perseverance of (my less than well-tuned) body lunging through the cold and wind and snow left a palatable glow that sustained me.

Completing four times and (twice) failing at Ironman were also great accomplishments that helped me grow in ways that I never could have imagined and that no one can ever take away. But I started running (and biking) into issues.

I won't lie. Indoor running sucks; I won't sugar coat that. Indoor swimming is okay and sometimes safer than swimming in a lake filled with boating yahoos. I even found it relaxing and invigorating, at times.

Indoor biking with the challenge of The Sufferfest and the social competition of Zwift both take personal training and skills development to a whole new level. These only make you stronger for when the rubber hits the road. And, of course, the six Tours of Sufferlandria and my Knighthood changed me in ways that I am most proud and pleased. But there was something else.

It's the road, stupid

The issue, after more than 10 years of training is: contemplating another long, straight, flat and windswept road. I'm, well, bored of riding on local highways. Don't get me wrong. The long road ahead, which is only a few more winter months away now, has many merits. This includes riding with favourite groups, such as Spoke 'n Hot Women's Cycling and Spokesmen Masters Cycling.  Both are groups that I'm a charter member of and that are near and dear to my heart.

This also includes taking the opportunity to ride with Elbow Valley Cycle Club out of Calgary, Alberta on one of my favourite rides, the Golden Triangle - a great three day ride through the Canadian Rockies that everyone should do twice, at least, in their lifetime. 

Then there are the fondos and the longer rides with friends. All of them a good day in the saddle. I did a gravel version of one last year, called Kettle Mettle and I was hooked.

But something was missing. I didn't know what it was until I ventured off the paved highway, beyond the road and onto the gravel and the dirt.

There, I found joy on two wheels again. Whether it was cyclocross or gravel grinding or just exploring on knobbies, my love for the sport was rekindled.

And then there was the snow! I love to snowshoe and hike in the winter, but Southern Saskatchewan is in the middle of a drought of sorts and there just has not been enough snow to make snowshoeing worthwhile. But throw in a bike, and a little snow and ice, suddenly become a whole new kettle of arctic fish.

Coming home after a muddy, dirty, and even snowy ride had me grinning like an idiot. Or at least more so than usual. I discovered that the joy of biking wasn't necessarily in going fast, but it was in just visiting places and environments that were different, challenging, interesting.

A new bug out bag

The marathoners or seasoned triathletes or campers or other sport participants will understand when I note that there is a mental preparation that goes into getting ready to participate in a given outdoor activity. That involves, not only getting oneself psyched up to do it, but also preparing all the clothing and equipment that will be needed. For seasoned (or fully baked) athletes like me it is having a bug out bag; a kit that, within a short time, can be thrown together to participate in a sport or a race, or in the case of triathlon, three sports plus travel.

With Ironman, my bug out bag took a couple of hours to assemble and I was good to go. It was known, it was comfortable, familiar, routine. But with cycling off road, onto the gravel and the dirt and especially into the snow; it was unfamiliar, untested, dangerous even! I found this exciting!

How would I dress? Would I get cold? How much cold could I endure on my bike. What about my hands and feet, how will I keep them warm? What about hydration? How should I keep my water from freezing - maybe add vodka? Will I have enough traction? What about the streets? How would I get to where I wanted to ride. I didn't wish to drive there, but would it be safe on the icy roads with car traffic driven by the same boating yahoos that I encountered during lake swims.

Everything about this new activity was interesting, curious, even,  I daresay, a little dangerous. What is it that Kate Bush sang in Cloud Busting? "What made it special, made it dangerous"  I just knew something good was going to happen when venturing out into the unknown.

The process of creating a new bug out bag actually created new brain  and muscle memory and I found that rejuvenating. I had to reorganize all my equipment and my clothing to figure out what I could use and wear and where!

The indoor was and still is necessary!

The going fast on the roads and highways was made possible by all the indoor training, especially with The Sufferfest, where I found bike riding, but also mental training and yoga programs. Riding at full speed wasn't always necessary, or even possible in some of these new conditions. This is true, especially in winter, when going quickly creates even more windchill on the Canadian prairies-- and anywhere else it is cold.

A brief lesson to those who don't normally encounter windchill. When it is cold enough for water to freeze, the outdoor temperature is relative. If there is wind, skin needs to be covered and layers need to be used. If you are cycling, you are multiplying the wind's effect and therefore need to further shield or protect yourself from it. Windchill is a dubious calculation, but it is not a rocket surgery to understand how the cold feeling is increased when one is going quickly against a frigid wind.

So, now I take my "other" bike out as often as I can. I call him Polyphemus Giant - for those with a mythological bent.

Snow is not an impediment. It is a catalyst to get outside. It is an enticement to use all that indoor training and suffering for joy and triumph.

Bikepacking is next

It was on a recent outdoor ride that I had a revelation. I really like to camp and recently was fortunate to do some winter camping at Prince Albert National Park. I really like to ride my bike. It seems lots of people are using their bikes for touring and, to a growing degree to camp, so why can't I?

So that is my newest goal. To get my self organized enough to do some riding and some camping - or bikecamping as the cool kids call it. It is just a question of getting all the gear together, but I've been getting my gear together for over a decade. Just a question of creating yet another bug out bag.

I'll share more details of my planned rad adventures as I get more organized. For the time being, I'm still running. In fact I ran outdoors in -11 Celsius at the end of February. I still love the freedom. I am still running indoors too. I am also riding plenty indoors, not because I have to, but because I do find it enjoyable and useful. Who knows, I may even swim a few laps or 200.

There is still much more of winter in these skies. But I now have more energy to play with, rather than avoid what winter can throw at me. I'm looking forward to the coming months and to the long, unpaved road ahead as the winter gives way to spring and the summer yields to the fall.

I'll be running and biking up that hill and to that horizon with no problems.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Tour of Sufferlandria - 2018 Edition

Well, here we are, the completion of the sixth tour of Sufferlandria. This was my sixth time getting on the start line and I am excited to note that I finished without injury or incident. I am also thrilled to note that at the close of the Tour, the total raised has been over $172,000 on a goal of US$150K for the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's.

The Tour, like previous ones included 9 Stages, a few interestingly painful ones at the the onset and two extremely uncomfortable ones at the end, including Kitchen Sink, a three-hour soup of some of the most difficult rides the Sufferfest has to offer.

But don't take my word for it. The video announcement is here:  Don't mind the abbreviations, we don't really know what they mean either, we just pedal like lunatics in our pain caves.

What was different, this year was that, for the first time, the Tour was to be done on the re-engineered Sufferfest App. Equally new was the introduction of the use of 4DP (Four Dimensional Power) instead of FTP as the measure of power targets for the ride. This created a whole new world of suffering and of the sense of achievement. Four Dimensional Power is explained here. 

Evolution of Suffering

Having done every Tour since 2013. I really appreciated the evolution of what's, essentially a basic fitness product, to a full-spectrum training regimen. You see, back in the good old day, David McQuillen, Founder and Chief Suffering Officer of The Sufferfest, was a guy with a good idea for making cycling better with the use of videos and some simple gamification, or role-play, as some would call it. 

This evolved into riding the Tour and individual rides measuring virtual power with the use a companion training program called Trainer Road, a powerful training app. But the two companies went their own way. The Sufferfest broke new ground creating and adding training for more than just cycling, but also running, triathlon and then yoga and, most lately, mental training - as if anyone didn't already think this was a mental pursuit. 

Some of the original supporters of SUF went their own way, others stuck around and embraced the change, the new App ecosystem, the advent of smart trainers, and an entirely new community. It is this new community that surfaced during the 2018 ToS. I heard rumours of some 5,000 competitors this year, which I believe is a record. Many of them showed up on the Facebook pages to share their joy, their anguish, their suffering and their mirth. As a Facebook refugee, veteran, survivor and frequent avoider, I have to admit, that these past two weeks have been a bit like the Prague Spring. There was, and continues to be so much love and support and peace and encouragement. Let's just hope it doesn't end the same way it ended for Czechoslovakia. But with Facebook, all bets are off.

By the way, if you are interested in that story. Do read Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being or watch the movie of the same name with Lena Olin and Daniel Day Lewis - it isn't the same as the book, but still an awesome work. But I digress.

There were so many Sufferlandrians, and I'd like to think that I was one of them, or at least one who supported the spirit of positivity that abounded during the Tour. It was all fun and games, and at the same time it was not. The efforts required, were at times very demanding. 

But part of the "fun" of the challenge was to demonstrate hard work and struggle in a way that was both inspirational and, well, hilariously funny.

I certainly could not do justice to any of the stories of struggle, of triumph, of success and of failure that I read on the pages. There was not a single day where my Facebook feed was not filled with stories that I would read and reread and even share with others to demonstrate what was going on between the cadence and the power.

Everyone is a Joker

Of course, there was also humour. Some jokesters, like myself took this event as an attempt to get some smiles and some laughter in the depth of, in all honesty what has been a pretty bleak January and February for many.

My way of dealing with it is with humour. Others used personal stories and others still wrote of feats of strength. All was welcome all was taken in the spirit in which it was intended.

At the end of the day, I would say that personally, this was one of the most successful Tours of Sufferlandria.  If you are looking for power targets and athletic achievement stories, you won't find them on this particular blog, as my goal was to suffer, to finish and to manage a new Low Carb-High Fat eating regimen that I have been on for the past two months. I will report on that in a coming blog. Initial results are promising.

One Sufferlandrian, graciously shared this graphic, which I'm including to document which of the videos were included, and their ride profile.

My other goal was, as you may have read from the words above, to strive to enjoy, interact and, when possible, inspire newer Sufferlandrians to a training environment that welcomed me so wholeheartedly many years ago.

Ironically, without any significant training goals, I still managed a couple of personal bests, including a 110 km ride on the final three hour stage. For those really interested in numbers, it was 9 stages, 476 kms and six loads of laundry. (I dubbed this the Tour of Sufferlaundria for appropriate reasons). I also managed to raise more money, personally, than I expected, for the Davis Phinney Foundation. I don't like asking for money, but some very good people donated a few bits and bobs, and I'm sure it helped the totals.

I made several good virtual friends on this Tour. I thank them for their support, their humour and their constant "pulling" through this nine-day virtual tour. I'd also like to thank the whole Sufferlandrian team, that "guy who rides with cows", the insufferable coaches who shall not be named,  and the support folk who humoured my constant "did you know what's not working..." comments. Thanks, as well to the Davis Phinney Foundation team who participated in the awesome circus.

This is truly a Tour for the record books and one that I will not soon forget. Thank you all. I look forward to getting back into the ring with you again! 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Blog is coming back!

Stay tuned.

Sorry I have been away, but I have so much to tell.
I'm looking forward to sharing stories about bike adventures and camping, flirtations with Ketosis and LCHF eating and incredible weight loss.

Also news of the Tour of Sufferlandria, 2018 edition. 

Also, stay tuned for stories of my next trip to Golden Triangle bike ride in the Canadian Rockies and a Gravel Grinding bike adventure in North Dakota and Wyoming.

See you soon!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Tour of Sufferlandria 2017

The fact is I didn't want to do it.

I was enjoying my semi-retired life as a Knight of Sufferlandria. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't on the couch. I spent most of my time enjoying my newfound appreciation for riding in muddy and snowy and otherwise unfashionable weather.

And there were other sirens calling me, luring me to straddle the saddle for non-Sufferlandrian deeds. Zwift was one of them. A 10-day free trial period and lots of friends posting their "pictures" on Strava had me Zwift-curious.

So I tried it, once or ten times. But I swear, I didn't inhale. Yeah, it was fun, but it didn't feel like home. Not like Sufferlandria felt like home.

This was also the time that I had gone silent on Facebook, and had cut myself off from my usual stream of bike-related frivolity and support. Still, the call of Suffering is not one that can be ignored.

It wasn't long before I found myself, when not riding outdoors in the slush and snow, firing up the SufApp and revisiting some of my favourite rides. From there, I was soon caught up in the excitement of the impending Tour of Sufferlandria 2017.

Bad memories of Facebook

It is no secret, that the ToS had some exceptional years. The years 2013 and 2014 stand out in my mind. Made many friends there. Many of them, like me, were or became Knights of Sufferlandria. Many of them became my virtual friends, and still are to this day. That being said, 2015 and 2016 were also memorable and filled with individuals who I still cherish and consider friends, albeit virtual ones.

This was also a time when social media went from fun to angry to ugly. Echoes of this I felt on several of the Sufferfest Facebook pages run by Sufferlandrians. What happened on Facebook, in my opinion, was a strange confluence of exuberance, ignorance of tradition and the new online ethos. Whatever it was, it left me with hesitation to seriously re-engage with the ToS online community.

At the same time, the The Sufferfest began movement from a video-based to an App-centred paradigm. This business model - because The Sufferfest is, at its roots, a business - something that many ignored or forgot, created some significant enmity for the Sufferfest community. Some went their own way, some dove in head first and others, like myself, just took the long term approach.

Thing is, stuff changes, technology marches on. I'm still annoyed that I have some music CDs that I have only listened to once or twice and that I no longer have a CD player. The SufApp had it's blemishes, (and it's constant, but reasonable cost), but no different than other premium apps, it also offered freedom of use over many platforms that was heretofore unprecedented. That was my way of thinking. And I just sat on the saddle and rode.

In 2015 and 2016, I had great Tour of Sufferlandria. Met some more exceptional people. And had such heartwarming support in my own personal endeavors, including my knighthood, that I still get goosebumps. The spectre of the increasingly solipsistic, alt-fact social media world had me reluctant to re-engage with ToS2017 online.

But I did. And it was the best online experience I have ever had with the tour. I'm not comparing it to my previous four Tour years. I'm comparing it to all other online experiences I have had. What a fine group of supportive, welcoming, earnest and genuine athletes.

There are just too many people to name, too many characters -- dames, knights, veterans,  and newbies, young and old. They are Americans, Austrians, Dutch and Quebecois, Canadians & expats, South Africans, Germans & Australians, Malaysians & Mexicans...Sufferlandrians from all over the world speaking the language of suffering that transcended all of our differences.

They all contributed to a community that created a bubble of support at a time where it seems that the world has lost its bearing. Some of the racers brought smiles to my face every time I heard of their exploits. I can't not mention the pancake-making roller Dame; the one armed bandito and the mustachioed enigma. You know who you are. There were so many more larger than life personalities that made the the race of a lifetime.

This was an experience that I will not soon forget. To be honest, the Tour course itself did not enthuse me. Some stages I found dull, others were repetitive. Previous years made my blood rush more.
This is not to say that this Tour didn't almost kill me. Holy water flowed and many times I had to stick my head in the freezer to regain composure.


The energy, the community, the personal involvement and holy water equity contributed by all of The Sufferfest personnel: Sirs David, Aaron, Jared, Coder-extraordinaire Reid and that tattooed, dulcet-voiced dude, Dylan. Set a compelling tone for the Tour.

The desire to push through, to contribute and to be a part of something "More than you" were reinforced by First Lady of the Tour Connie Carpenter and equally legendary Davis Phinney, the outstanding in his field Mike Cotty and that Sir Neil Henderson. All of them were omnipresent and served as exceptional inspiration, or in the case of that last workout-creating dude, foci of enthusiastic disparagement.

The reciprocation and participation of lay Sufferlandrians and Dames and Knights made this truly a rare and engaging event like no other.

It is not a Tour of Sufferlandria I will soon forget.  Thank you to all.

In a future blog, I may share some of the many videos I made along the way. I didn't believe that I would be as active as I was online.

It is never too late to contribute to the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's. As of five days after the tour, Sufferlandrians, family and friends had contributed more than US$141,000.  That is incredible and it demonstrates, again. The power of the pedal bike.

I now hang this certificate proudly in my office. 


One Sufferlandrian, David Higginson posted this brilliant version of the challenge of the ToS2017 It really: If you like this, donate on his page.


Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Tour of Sufferlandria 2016

This past weekend, I finished the Tour of Sufferlandria. It is the Greatest Grand Tour of a mythical nation. But it is only mythical in name. There are nine very real stages, participants, most of whom I only know virtually are also very real. There is a very real charity, The Davis Phinney Foundation, that benefits from the efforts of riders. This is my personal donation page. As of February 16, 2016, US$111,671 was raised for the charity that benefits those with Parkinson's.

Here is a link to the event. So much has been said by others and said so much better than I can, that I couldn't do it justice. Besides. I have talked about the Tour many times before.

What else made this a "real" tour? The suffering. Participants worked harder than they thought they could - some for the first time - to achieve the goals of the Tour. Sufferlandrians call this "suffering". There is as tradition of thought that crosses all cultural divides and ages that believes that true gains, true benefit and true enlightenment can only come through suffering.

  • Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller 
  • To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. Friedrich Nietzsche

So all the participants suffered. Not only physically through the intense efforts needed to do the rides, but also in terms of scheduling, in terms of personal and social sacrifice. Some had to give up activities and plans that they had to complete the rides. Some had to not spend as much time as they normally do with their families. Some actually hurt themselves, or pushed themselves to the limits of pain and endurance. Many went way beyond their comfort zones, physically, socially and in their fund raising efforts.

A big part of this year's Tour, as in previous years, was a Facebook Group. The Tour of Sufferlandria 2016.   This was possibly one of the most sociable, connected, friendly online groups I have ever encountered.  It was not unusual to look at my Facebook feed to find 30 or 40 new notifications every morning - and these were not just comments to the group, these were actual conversations, some frivolous, some completely earnest.

One of the non cycling activities that many engaged in was posting of pictures and video of personal suffering. This was not a display of  "I'm suffering more than you". Rather, it was a proud display, in a safe environment of a shared experience. Individuals posted pictures of total physical exhaustion, or comments from confused or disapproving co-workers or family.

The group understood. The group never judged. To be completely honest, some did judge, but were very quickly shut down by others. this was not a place for trolls or jerks.

It was a place of making friends, albeit sometimes temporary ones. I know that I have made many real friends on this page. Ones that I can trust as much as the flesh and blood ones that I grew up with.

But this wasn't all making friends and singing of kumbaya. This was hard work. This was descending into my, albeit comfortable, pain cave for nine days straight. Descending down there, even when my legs were tired, when my hips were sore, when I had strange and painful abrasions on my nether regions that I haven't had since I was in diapers. It can be noted that a wet chamois on bike shorts may be likened to wet diapers.

Doing this, like I've done it before, required significant mental toughness - as I have written about in earlier blogs.   (note there is a problem with some early blogs and the pictures are not loading). I needed to keep focused on the required task. Unlike in previous tours, in this one, there was no way of proving that you actually did the workouts. Previously, they were measured on Trainer Road.  This link is my rides from last year's Tour.

This year's Tour was based on the honour system - you only had yourself and the virtual group of Sufferlandrians to keep you honest and accountable.

That is only partially true, though. As a Knight of Sufferlandria,  I had the honour of competing in a challenge of power and strength against other knights. This was measured and calculated daily. I'm pleased to say that I cracked the top ten. First time I've ever done that in a sporting event in my life.

So, how did I do? What are my stats? I don't really care for evaluating numbers. Maybe that is why I don't really get that competitive. But it is interesting to see what I achieved.

  • 9 Stages
  • 12 Videos 
  • 12.5 Hours  
  • 324 Kilometres
  • 11 Changes of clothing
  • 20 Towels
  • $140 raised personally for Davis Phinney Foundation  
Along the way, I pushed my limits further than I ever have. Made some personal discoveries that I am only now starting to disentangle from my psyche and, as I said, also made many many friends.

I also took lots of selfies of me suffering and learned how to do selfie videos. I've added some of them below. Each is self explanatory. One of my goals was to try to make others smile during a time of very hard work. I posted much of this on the Tour page. I hope that they were liked. I did get some good feedback and considerable laughing - and thankfully not the pointing at me and laughing variety.

In this one, a video, I didn't have time to change, and I had a meeting right afterwards, so I did just what any Sufferlandrian would do; not bother changing.

In this one, I think I really really wanted to call my Mommy. But sadly, she was out of country and not near a phone.
In this one, just after I finally finished, I was attached by Wilbur, the dreaded basement-dwelling bear. It was okay though, because Wilbur is very plush.  

This video was in honour of Spoke 'n Hot Women's Cycling.

 This one was in honour of World Bicycle Relief, for whom I had the privilege of raising money during my knighthood attempt. Here is the blog of my attempt that they posted. 


And finally. finally! My final video. It includes some fancy, low tech camera techniques.

Thank you all for participating in the Tour and for making this, yet again, another great experience and a key part of my training, not just for sport, but for living!